new york review of books

Letter From Austria: Peter Handke’s Sorrow and My Own



(The New York Review of Books publishes books that belong in print, but have fallen out of it. Yes, this is a highbrow small press, but they are doing excellent things. Check them out. Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams was first published in translation in 1974 by FSG.)


I am deep in the Austrian Alps of Carinthia, near the borders of Italy and Slovenia, in a province largely full of people who never leave it, a six hour train ride from Vienna, staring out my hotel window to enormous mountains and yards and yards of snow, pine trees, and quaint houses that have not changed in structure for hundreds of years. Handke is from Carinthia, from a town not far from here. My parents and I  see each other once a year because they live in Vienna and we live in New York. Once, I looked out at all the beauty and thought; “All this beauty. Too bad it is full of Austrians.” Other times I look out and try to be happy and grateful. (There are things I like about Austria. I like the food, the Frittatensuppe, the Topfen, the Semmeln, the delicious Austrian pastries, as good as any Italian pastry. I have a weird fetish for the traditional clothes, the Dirndls, the Lederhosen, the felted wool in general. (I grew up wearing that stuff.))


Peter Handke’s mother killed herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of fifty-one. He writes:


My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks; I had better get to work before the need to write about her, which I felt so strongly at her funeral, dies away and I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to the news of her suicide.


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December 26th, 2008 / 4:35 am